Cultivating Intimacy in Your Marriage

In an early episode of “The Simpsons,” Homer ate a piece of fish that he was later told was poisonous, leaving him with 24 hours to live. Faced with his mortality, he created a checklist of everything he wanted to do before death came knocking: teach his son how to shave, toss a baseball with his father, have one last beer with his barfly friends, and, saving the best for last, he wanted to “be intimate with Marge.” Of course, “being intimate” was his code for what would happen between the sheets. “Intimacy” is an essential ingredient in marriage; in fact, marriages that lack intimacy will die a slow death.

Intimacy: It’s What You Know

But intimacy runs far deeper than what we do with our bodies. Being intimate, as God designed it, involves every part of our being, our mind, our emotions, our spirit, and yes, our sexuality as well. Intimacy is described in the first pages of the bible, where we read one pregnant sentence that captures much of God’s intention for intimacy: “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:25). While we might conclude that Adam & Eve’s nakedness is a comment on their sexuality, the text doesn’t limit the meaning to sex. To be naked is to be vulnerable and known; it’s to allow another person discover a part, or all, of you. That’s why opening up to another person about a fear that you have or something you are passionate about can leave you feeling quite vulnerable. And since we are multi-dimensional creatures, with emotions, thoughts, souls, and bodies, God made it possible for us to be known in a myriad of ways. In fact, it’s safe to say that, in the paradise of Eden, “nakedness” involved the joy of knowing and being known in body, mind, and spirit.

When intimacy is lacking

What does this mean for your marriage? If you want to fully enjoy the connection that God intends you to have, you will be discussing ways to foster intimacy in all areas of your life. This is easier said than done. Consider Ken and Allison, a young couple who have been married for just a few years. Ken feels most connected with Allison when their sex life is healthy; he would tell you that when the sex is good he finds it easier to open up about what’s on his mind, how he’s feeling about work, family, and lots of other things. But when sex becomes infrequent or mechanical, he feels less connected to Allison, so it’s harder to share his emotions, his fears, and even the joys and longings of his heart. Allison sees things differently. She enjoys sex but is annoyed when Ken makes little effort to connect outside of the bedroom, complaining, “It’s like he has one thing on his mind!” When she’s discouraged about a criticism from a coworker, or mulling over a novel that she enjoyed, telling him about it can feel like talking to a wall. “Mmhmmm….” is about the most interest he can muster! When it’s time to turn in for the night, Ken initiates sex, but Allison isn’t in the mood, and rejects his advances, leaving him feeling hurt and angry. Does this pattern sound familiar?

God's design

God wants more for us. Sex is about more than just connecting with our bodies, and intimacy is about more than sex! So, if you were to evaluate your relationship today, how would you and your partner rate your connection?

  • Emotionally: being able to articulate feelings, what and why you feel; empathizing with others
  • Spiritually: worshiping God together; doing devotions as a couple or family; learning what it looks like to grow in Christ; encouraging one another in developing your spiritual gifts
  • Mentally: discussing ideas; learning to understand different points of view
  • Physically: building non-sexual affection; romance outside of the bedroom
  • Recreationally: pursuing hobbies together, learning new hobbies, supporting one another’s passions
  • Sexually: enjoying a mutually satisfying sex life, with the frequency, variety, and enjoyment that both of you find fulfilling

The fear of being known

If you’re like most couples, you’ll find that your connection varies, sometimes even within the week! The truth is, sharing ourselves with another person is both one of our greatest longings, and our biggest fears. As much as we want to be deeply known, we are also afraid that the more of ourselves that we share, the more likely we are to be rejected, and the more vulnerable we have been, the more painful the rejection will be. This too is hinted at in that one pregnant sentence of Genesis 2:25: “they were naked, and they felt no shame.” In the perfection of paradise, perfectly secure in their relationship with God, Adam and Eve had nothing to fear from being known by the other. The God who had created them knew them down to their very depths, and found nothing in them that was undesirable. The security we need to be known is tied to being known by the God who made us! That’s why, the moment after sin enters the world, Adam and Eve’s first reaction is to realize “that they were naked, and they were ashamed.” Once there was something imperfect in them, Adam and Eve couldn’t bear to be known. That legacy stains every human relationship! One of the reasons you come home from work in a bad mood, even though you insist that you’re “fine” is because you feel vulnerable admitting that your performance review wasn’t great, and you’re feeling like a failure. One of the reasons that sexual intimacy can be so difficult is because sexual sin from your past can leave you feeling ashamed.

Rediscovering the Joy of Being Known

The gospel is the story about God drawing near to us, knowing the very worst in us, and yet loving us enough to die for us. The bible tells us that we are “clothed in Christ” (Gal. 3:27), meaning that, in Jesus, God gives us the clothing that makes us fully acceptable. God knows us down to the very depths of who we are, and loves us more than we can possibly imagine. If intimacy is something that you fear, or something that you find difficult, the place to begin is in your relationship with God. Resting in the assurance that the one whose view of you matters more than anything else gives us the confidence and security to put ourselves out there with others. We can even handle rejection from others when we know that there is a God who will never reject us.

So, are you choosing a relationship that settles into being guarded from one another? Or, are you finding ways to grow the connection between you and your spouse that is deepening your relationship in all ways? Have a conversation today with your spouse. Where can you invest in broadening your intimacy? What would it look like to deepen your intimacy?

In C.S. Lewis’ book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Clarence Eustace Scrubb has spent most of his life keeping other people from knowing him with his nastiness. At one point in the book he comes to see that his vile behavior has turned him into a scaly-skinned dragon, and he wishes to be a boy again, to “laugh, and share things with others.” Try as he might, he cannot scratch his ugly exterior off of himself. It’s not until Aslan the Lion, who represents Jesus, digs his claws agonizingly deep into young Clarence’s skin, and tears off the scaly dragon skin, that he is made whole again. It took the agonizing but liberating process of being deeply known by Aslan for Clarence to learn he could be vulnerable with others.

The gospel tells us that God has come to know us in Christ, in order that we might share ourselves deeply with others and experience the joy of intimacy.

About the author — Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra

Rob Toornstra has pastored a church in Salem Oregon for the past ten years. He has been married to Amy for fifteen years, and together, they are enjoying the adventure of raising two girls and one boy. For fun, Rob enjoys cooking, reading, aviation, and geocaching.  He is the author of "Naked and Unashamed: How the Good News of Jesus Transforms Intimacy" (Doulos, 2014).

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